Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Conspiracy Theories

One of boredom's many flaccid enemies is the conspiracy theory. The idea that NASA used 1960s technology and thousands of man hours to put a handful of astronauts on the moon is too boring, so it must have been a conspiracy. The idea that nineteen lunatics decided to hijack some planes and fly them into buildings is too boring, so they concoct another conspiracy. Even the idea that the Occupy Wall Street and 99% movements are collectives of angry, disenfranchised people is too boring; they are dupes of Obama.

Conspiracy theories always have one thing in common: there is an elite, highly competent and powerful group of people working behind the scenes to continuously pull the wool down over people's eyes. Even more than that, and even more fascinating (in a flaccid way) is that there is an implicit theory of history at work here: the elite group is a kind of perverse vanguard; rather than inserting themselves into the flow of history and guiding the masses towards absolute freedom, they stymy history in the name of their own shadowy elite interests and absolute tyranny

It is easiest to see how this works in economics. What is libertarian economics but a conspiracy theory (note how many 9/11 Truthers are libertarians)? The free market is the pinnacle of the natural flow of history; it is the natural mode of exchange and production, it is what history has been working towards ever since the first coin was minted. And yet! The shadowy elite's shadowy interests conflict with that of the self-made man, the Howard Roark who uses the Earth to build a reflection of his own ego! So, the elite must stymy Roark; carbon credits, taxes, foreign wars, regulations. The elite stymies the natural flow of economic and political history. The free market has the flow of history on its side, but the elite, being god-like (and they are always god-like! What mere collection of humans could plan and conceal 9/11?) interrupt history itself, like a perverse vision of Napoleon at Jena.

The smug self-satisfaction that marks the conspiracy theorist and the libertarian is no less annoying than the smug self-satisfaction of the liberal, but at least liberals hold correct opinions now and again. They might utterly lack critical skills, but at least liberals have a sense that the world, being a banal place lacking necessity and fundamental beauty, could be different. Conspiracy theorists, knowing that the elite are invincible supermen, feel that knowledge of the conspiracies is enough to generate emancipation. They are not duped! They know the score. And the game is so stacked against them that they have decided to sit on the sidelines and listen to another one of Alex Jones' soporifics.

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